London was not at all what Olivia had expected. While her meetings with her lawyers was fruitful when it came to receiving the inheritance that had been promised to her from Daniel’s estate, her wish to find herself and her sister among society was not fulfilled. She found that the scandal between Daniel and John had not been forgotten, and its reach went as far as to wrap itself around her good name. She received no visits or calls at the town house, and found that when she was about in town, all eyes were on her, tongues wagged and she received many looks of pity but was offered no kind words.
It was another dreary rainy day in London and Eugie was whining, begging for Olivia to read to her. It was a task that Olivia had found tedious, and she found herself resenting Eugie’s dependence on her for entertainment. Eugie’s malaise and melancholy had followed her from Brookington Hall to London, and although she was no longer prone to hysterics or theatrics, she had resisted any efforts that Olivia had made to leave the town home and explore the city. Her manners were much improved due to Cordelia’s influence, but there was still much to learn. Eugie, however, was content to spend her days sighing, eating sweets, lying about, complaining of headaches and begging Olivia to read to her.
“Why can’t you just read on your own?” Olivia finally lashed out against her sister.
At the bitterness in Olivia’s words, Eugie sat up and a shocked and hurt expression grew over her face. She reached for the novel Olivia had been reading to her and opened it, and began reading aloud. Olivia was sitting at a desk, shuffling through papers and writing letters and notes. Her meetings with the lawyers had been fruitful in gaining access to the funds promised her by John and Daniel, however, she was still frustrated with her lack of power with regards to helping her siblings and her mother, and Eugie’s malaise and dependence upon her grated at her soul.
Her resentment faltered when she saw that her sister struggled at reading. Olivia’s education contrasted deeply with the lack of refinement and education that her sister had, and Olivia was once again reminded of the hardships of her sister’s life. As Eugie’s wavering voice broke into tears, Olivia stood up from her sheath of papers to embrace her sister.
“We need to get you out of this house.” Olivia reasoned, once the river of tears had subsided.
“I don’t want to go anywhere.” Eugie shook her head.
“Cordelia gave us both a task, to visit her very dear friend, and I am afraid we are disappointing her in being in town several weeks and not having done so.”
“Oh, that is really bad, isn’t it?” Eugie sat up straighter now, wiping her eyes.
And so it was that Olivia was able to cajole her sister into finally leaving their abode to re-enter society. Though it was not without anxiety on both their parts. The sisters dressed carefully, picking lovely yet modest dresses, and taking special care in arranging their hair. They were sure that this Captain Wedmore was a very fine gentleman, if the lovely Cordelia viewed him as a very special friend.
They were not disappointed when they visited the Captain. He was a genial and handsome man, who received them with genuine sincerity.
“And how is our grace, the Duchess?” Andrew asked.
“As lovely as ever.” Eugie answered.
Andrew was kind and patient with her sister, who had many nerves, but after noting that she doted on Cordelia as much as he, they spoke animatedly of Cordelia, and her son, and when Andrew saw that Eugie had enthusiasm about children, he offered to introduce her to his own two beloved children, who were in the nursery, and Eugie jumped at the offer, leaving to spend some time with the lovely little girl, named Sarah, and the boy, Christopher. Sarah animatedly spoke to Eugie about her dolls, and Eugie genuinely seemed to be enjoying playing with the lovely little girl.
It was then that Andrew and Olivia retired to have tea, with Eugie and the children being occupied. Olivia’s heart felt lighter now, seeing her sister happy, and the kindness that Andrew had shown the both of them. She had been so alone for so many days, that she had not realized how much she needed the comfort and kindness of good society.
“Your sister is a lovely girl.”
“She has suffered much, and lacks social graces, but has a heart of gold.”
“A heart of gold is preferable to refinement and education. Kindness and a love of and patience for children are virtues that cannot be learned.”
Olivia smiled at his kind words.
“I see that you are in mourning. I myself am a widower. I don’t mean to presume, but I understand from Cordelia that your courtship was a very short one. I offer my sincerest condolences.”
“It was not a love match.” In this, Olivia decided she could be honest, to a degree. “I am more shocked at being a widow at such a young age, and must report that finding one’s self in mourning of someone I barely knew to be quite daunting indeed.”
“No one can fault you for your honestly.” Andrew’s words shocked Olivia. She had taken him for a sentimental person, but that he could see her side amazed her.
“I just feel so terrible.” Olivia stated, her eyes welling up with tears. “To put on this black dress and retreat away from society, the things everyone says about me, but never to me. I am always left quite alone because society assumes that I wish to be left alone. I have Eugie only, and she needs me in a way that I cannot fulfil.”
Andrew took Olivia’s hand and squeezed it. “I know that much is being said about your late husband, and it is unfair for society to malign the name of someone as yourself, who in your naievete and youth can only be assumed blameless. And Cordelia has spoken to me as well of the particularly difficult circumstances your family is in. I offer my friendship and my understand.”
“I can only accept this with an open heart, sir.” Olivia smiled at the handsome face of this gentleman.
It was arranged between them that Olivia and Eugie would accompany Andrew and his children to a picnic in the park in a few days time. Eugie, who had taken to Sarah immediately, was overjoyed at the prospect.
And so it went that a friendship began between the two families. Eugie was excited to amuse and spend time with the children, who had delighted in her presence since their much beloved Aunt had left the household several months before to be married. And Olivia found an affection in her growing for Andrew as they spent more time together.
He was not a man given to falseness or who concerned himself with status or gossip. Olivia had infamy attached to her because of Daniel, but Andrew chose to disregard this, and treated her as if she was a fine lady indeed. She had shared with him the circumstances of her childhood, the reduced circumstances of her mother and siblings, the horror that was her father, and her feelings of having lived a life of borrowed luxury that made her feel guilty, and Andrew listened with an open mind and heart, offering sympathy where she required it, and refusing to allow her to blame herself.
“Life can be a trial. I speak as a man who has suffered a great loss and seen much sorrow. But we need to accept these difficult things and soldier on.”
“I hope that you are right, Andrew.” Olivia smiled at her friend but still felt an apprehension. They had shared with each other many confidences, but Olivia had not told him of the deception that she had done with Daniel and John. That was a truth she was loath to share with someone as pure-hearted as Andrew.
“We shall start by doing what we can. I am happy to invite you and your lovely sister to a dinner at Green Boughs in a fortnight. It is well time for Miss Eugenia to be introduced to society, and for you to climb out of the shadow of widowhood.”
Olivia smiled and laughed. She knew that this was a good idea, but was afraid for her sister, who would be very distressed to hear of this. And Eugie was frightened at first, but once Andrew mentioned that Cordelia would be attending and would be seated next to Eugie, she calmed down, and actually seemed enthusiastic about the affair.
“Her Grace said that we would stay in Green Boughs for a week! It was her childhood home, you know.” Eugie smiled brightly. “She said I should wear the lilac silk for the dinner, and that she would show me the gardens, which were her favorite place. And that I should not worry about the dinner because I should just converse of the things I love, like the children or all of the lovely things we have seen and done with Andrew in London and that I shall do quite well!”
It had not been a full year of mourning, but Olivia chose a claret colored gown to wear to the dinner. Green Boughs had been lovely, and the room that she was sharing with Eugie was a lovely one. Eugie had gone off, at once, to explore the grounds of the home with Cordelia and the children, and Olivia decided to dress and be ready for dinner early. The dress was of a modest cut and design, but its plainness accentuated her loveliness. It was not a scandalous dress by any means, but Olivia knew that it signified her moving away from mourning. She had not mourned long enough by society’s standards, but she was sure that no one would fault her for this, considering the gossip that circulated about her dear departed husband. Her own knowledge that Daniel was alive and well and probably carousing with John at that very moment caused her to laugh at her own reflection in the mirror.
“You look absolutely lovely and not at all amusing.” Cordelia’s words were soft and kind. “Your sister is having her hair done by my maid. I thought it would be a nice treat for her.”
“I must thank you for your attentions to her. They have helped her in a way that I did not think possible. I cannot begin to thank you for your kindness and condescension as well as your introduction to us with Andrew, who has been a true friend in difficult times.”
At those eyes, Cordelia’s eyebrows rose and a brilliant smile lit up her face. “Andrew is a one-in-a-million man. I know this because I am married to one of those. My only hope has been for him to find true happiness once again, and I thought you might find yours with his help.”
At those words a chill ran up Olivia’s spine. Cordelia had not only meant for Andrew to give them society and company. She had hoped that he would find love with Olivia! The thought shocked her, but then she realized something. She had begun to feel an affection for this man. They had spent many hours together, sharing their sorrows, their stories, their pasts, and even their hopes for the future, him for his children and her for her sisters and her mother.
“Don’t worry.” Cordelia placed her arms around Olivia and gave her a hug. “You look beautiful. Andrew will see this. It is a pleasure to see you out of black and in some color.”
The dinner was a success. Eugie was lovely, if a bit shy. Cordelia went out of her way to include Eugie in conversations, and Olivia saw that her sister gave the impression of a lovely, sweet young girl who had made herself a special friend to the Duchess of Marlborough. Eugie even conversed quite easily with the young gentleman to her right, a naval officer named Jones.With him she spoke of the sea, as her father’s work as a seaman acquainted her with the life of a sailor. Olivia herself sat across from Andrew, who offered her his brilliant smile every time she glanced at him, which was often. She was nervous, but still conversed with her seatmates, but found she was distracted by a warm feeling that was growing inside of her as she looked at Andrew through different eyes.
Could she find happiness? Did she deserve it? She was a charlatan. Presenting herself as a widow to society, to someone as fine as Andrew was a farce, a criminal farce! But she did feel a widow. She felt that her marriage to Daniel had been a grave mistake. She had made the decision in a time of desperation, thinking only of the money and what it could do for her family, but never about herself. Andrew was lovely, he did not judge her, and had done everything in his power to make her and her sister feel comfortable, feel wanted. His children were a delight and she could see that he shared an affection for her as well.
Olivia resolved that she could do it. She could keep buried inside of her forever the secret of Daniel’s being alive, the secret of her marriage, her false widowhood. If she had any chance of a life with Andrew, she would take it, and no one could blame her or call her out. The only other person who knew of this deception was the Duke of Marlborough himself, and it was unlikely that he would call her out, as he had held this secret from his wife. His wife, who had been the one to engineer the relationship between Andrew and Olivia herself. Yes, if the opportunity presented itself, Olivia would take it without regret. She had suffered much in life, and deserved love and happiness.
When the dinner was done, and the guests had gone, she found herself particularly happy at Green Boughs. It was a lovely home, and Andrew had taken care to make sure that she and her sister were shown every comfort. Cordelia herself begged an early leave as she missed her Jamie, and as Eugie was much occupied with the children, Olivia found herself in Andrew’s company all alone.
“This is a lovely estate. I can see that you have much affection for it.”
“Yes,” Andrew smiled. “I had purchased it thinking of my late wife, and her connection to Cordelia, and I wanted to make it a lovely place for my children to grow up in.”
“Any child would be blessed to have such a home, and such a father.” Olivia could not help these words from escaping her tongue. They were a truth burning in her mouth and she had to set them free.
“Your words give me much joy.” Andrew took her hand. “As does the sight of you in such a lovely color. Your beauty is enhanced and not hidden in those widow’s weeds.”
Those words caused a fire to burn through her body. She looked up at him and smiled. Olivia wanted to throw her arms around Andrew and kiss him, and it took everything she had inside of her to restrain herself. He kissed her hand and she retired to her room, and found it was empty, save a note from Eugie on her bed.
Sarah was feeling poorly so I am staying the night with her in the nursery.
Olivia sighed and retired to bed, her head full of thoughts of Andrew and his lips upon her hands. His eyes admiring her in the red dress, his kind words, his strong arms around her. She imagined their life together in this home and she slept the most lovely and deep sleep of her short life.